Jerusalem, January 12, 2004

Taxi driver arrested for transporting terrorist to Geha interchange suicide bombing
(Communicated by the Prime Minister’s Media Adviser)

On December 25, 2003, at approximately 18:30, a Palestinian terrorist perpetrated a suicide attack at the Geha interchange in which four Israeli citizens were murdered and over 20 were wounded. The perpetrator was a PFLP terrorist from Beit Furik.

After the attack a resident of the Palestinian Authority areas was arrested for accompanying the suicide terrorist to Geha interchange. The man admitted that he and the suicide terrorist had traveled in the taxi of an Israeli driver who was subsequently identified as Ofer Schwartzbaum, 39, a taxi driver from Oranit and father of four.

Schwartzbaum was arrested on January 8, 2004. He said that on the afternoon of December 25, the man who accompanied the suicide terrorist telephoned him and asked for a ride from Kafr Kassem to the Geha interchange. Schwartzbaum drove to Kafr Kassem and in exchange for NIS 100 (NIS 50 from each man), agreed to drive the two to the Geha interchange. During the trip, they told Schwartzbaum that were going to meet their employer at the Geha interchange in order to get paid. In response to a question from Schwartzbaum as to how they obtained his cellular phone number, the man who accompanied the suicide terrorist replied that he had received it from a group of workers from the PA areas. The man said that at that stage Schwartzbaum asked them if they had permits to be in Israel; they responded in the negative. When they reached the Geha interchange, Schwartzbaum let them out and went on his way.

Schwartzbaum admitted that in the context of his work as a taxi driver, he would drive many PA area residents including those whom he knew lacked permits to be in Israel. He would frequently pick them up near the mosque in Kafr Kassem. Schwartzbaum was aware that PA area residents who enter Israel illegally are liable to be terrorists seeking to perpetrate attacks inside Israel and who might be carrying explosives either in bags or on their persons.

Schwartzbaum’s file has been turned over to the State Prosecutor’s Office.

Background on the transporting of terrorists to their targets

In recent years, the security forces have arrested several accomplices of Palestinians who have been in Israel illegally for assisting in transporting terrorists to their targets. This constitutes a severe security offense that has claimed many innocent lives. Claims that accomplices and drivers were misled and are, therefore, not responsible, have been rejected by the courts, which have imposed heavy sentences.

Many PA area residents enter and reside in Israel illegally in order to work. Palestinian terrorist organizations frequently turn to those who are engaged in transporting such illegals, many of whom possess blue identity cards and thus enjoy relative freedom of movement and who are familiar with the area, in order to obtain their assistance in infiltrating suicide terrorists into Israel. The security forces bring these criminals to court and the courts have imposed heavy sentences, noting that transporting those who are in Israel illegally is in itself illegal. The courts have rejected claims of naivete and being unaware. The Nazareth District Court recently ruled that: "The actions detailed in Article 12a of the Entry Law – lodging, employing and transporting residents of the area who enter, reside in or work in, Israel illegally, have been defined as criminal acts the punishment of which must prevent rendering assistance – even unawares – to those who are liable to be terrorists. If the criminal is inattentive to the cry of the victims, perhaps he will listen to the sound of bars being locked."

The terrorist organizations customarily approach those who assist illegals in various ways. The real motive for transporting the terrorist is usually concealed, at least until the beginning of the trip.

On May 18, 2001, a suicide terrorist blew himself up at the Hasharon Mall in Netanya, murdering five Israelis and wounding over 100 others. The Israeli citizen, Ahmed Jaber, who drove the terrorist to the mall was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment, four years’ probation and had his driver’s license invalidated for five years beginning on the day he is released from prison. The judges noted that Jaber chose to ignore a long series of warning signs that should have alerted him to the fact that his passenger was a terrorist: his attire, which was inappropriate for work on a hot a day; that the terrorist didn’t speak with him, while the man who accompanied him did; that other drivers had refused to transport him; and that he was offered NIS 200 for a NIS 6 ride. The judges determined that Jaber had "closed his eyes" and acted hastily and with shocking recklessness, while ignoring the risk to human life.

On July 17, 2002, two Israeli citizens and three foreign nationals were murdered and 40 people injured in a double suicide bombing on Neve Shaanan Street in Tel Aviv. Khaled Ashur, 42, married with five children, from Jaffa was responsible for transporting the terrorist to the location of the attack. Ashur admitted that he frequently works with persons illegally in Israel, and that he had brought the two to Neve Shaanan, but said that they had not revealed the real purpose of their trip. Ashur was convicted of being an accessory to murder and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. His license was revoked for 15 years and his share in the value of the taxi, NIS 10,000, was confiscated by the government.

On August 5, 2002, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the Umm El Fahm junction. The terrorist was brought to the junction by Azzam Dahdel, 25, an Arab Israeli from Nazareth who is married with one child. Dahdel’s uncle, Bulus Marshi, 38, an Israeli Arab from Nazareth, married with four children, was also in the taxi since the two were involved in regularly transporting those illegally in Israel. Dahdel claimed that he was unaware as to the purpose of the terrorist’s journey and the fact that he was wearing an explosive belt. Dahdel was injured as a result of the explosion. Bulus was convicted of illegal transportation, aiding illegal residence in Israel, obstructing an investigation and receiving bribery and was sentenced to 42 months’ imprisonment, 38 months’ probation and a NIS 70,000 fine.

The Nazareth District Court commented: "The appellant before us (Marshi) put Israeli citizens in enormous danger, which due to a miracle, did not end in a blood bath and did so for monetary gain. A criminal act is meant to result in horrific acts, and the punishment must be severe. If there are no extenuating circumstances, the appellant must be punished, even if the person was unaware of what his acts would lead to, or if he was carrying them out for financial reasons. The punishment must be imprisonment without the possibility of converting the sentence to community service. The fact that the appellant acted out of economic difficulties, and that his is the only income, is not a reason to lighten the sentence."

The security establishment has information of many cases in which drivers in the Arab sector refused to transport persons illegally in Israel. These drivers have refrained from criminal wrongdoing and may appear to have passed up an opportunity to earn money, but in reality these drivers have avoided involvement in security offenses and they will continue to honorably provide for their families.